Summer 2014

Wildland firefighting – dynamic and high-risk

TenCate Protective Fabrics focuses, among other markets, on structural and wildland firefighting. A wildland fire is more dynamic than a structural fire and TenCate is endeavouring to ensure that through research, development and end-user marketing these firefighters too have the right personal protection resources.
TenCate Protective Fabrics develops and produces protective fabrics and multi-risk solutions for personal protection. One of the fields of application is the fire service. TenCate supplies all the components for turnout gear: outer shell, moisture-regulating intermediate layer, thermal protective fabric, thermal liner and reinforcement fabrics. Thanks to a broad portfolio of protection solutions, an effective response can be made to specific local demands and circumstances worldwide. 

protective natuurbrandbestrijding hand crew
(Photo: Battalion Chief Mike Inman, Los Angeles County Fire Department

A separate segment within the fire service market is firefighting in forests, heathlands and dune areas: wildland firefighting. Fire in residential or business premises, irrespective of size, is restricted to one spot, whereas a wildland fire is more dynamic and ‘challenging’. This dynamic character also makes it more dangerous. Such a fire travels and its progress is much more difficult to predict. Rising combustion gases and the intake of cooler oxygen-rich air can create turbulence and enormous wind speeds, and a fire front of more than 1 kilometre is no exception. Firefighters can become encircled by flames – a situation that occurs particularly in the United States, with its great diversity of landscapes. This is hard physical work, with a relatively rapid build-up of heat and considerable moisture loss. Wildland firefighters work long shifts, so the protective clothing they wear must be specially designed and manufactured to cope with terrain conditions. Consequently the training, approach and personal protection resources differ substantially from those applicable to structural (exterior and interior) firefighting. 

protective natuurbrandbestrijding rim fire 3
(Photo: Battalion Chief Mike Inman, Los Angeles County Fire Department

Wildland fires occur throughout the United States but vary greatly in size and intensity. The most significant wildfires occur across the southern and western states during the summer months, when wildland fuels dry to critical levels and weather conditions and topography align to create the conditions for major fire events. Wildland fires range from a few hectares to hundreds of thousands of hectares. On average there are more than 100,000 wildfires a year in the US, which consume between one and half and two million hectares of land. And this figure has already been adjusted upwards! Major wildland fires of this kind also plague Alaska and Canada. 

protective natuurbrandbestrijding adriaan ter huurne
Adriaan ter Huurne

For the past year the Netherlands too has had a specialist team (hand crew) for wildland firefighting. It hails from the fire service regions Twente and IJsselland and was instigated by Adriaan ter Huurne, a repression expert specializing in wildland fire, who is based at the Twente Fire Department and is currently also station coordinator Haaksbergen. In 2009 he spent three months gathering knowledge at the San Bernardino County Fire Department (California), transferred this knowledge to the Netherlands, and has now been able to set up and train a home-grown unit (hand crew). 

There are now two teams (20-strong maximum) that work with American tools, and they have already gained practical experience in wildland fires in the Masbos at Breda and the Hoge Veluwe by Hoenderlo. The teams come into action when fire engines are unable to get close enough. Using a container for storage purposes, the crews tackle the source of fire on foot. In addition they are equipped with fire swatters (wooden sticks with metal beaters), Pulaski axes, McLeod rakes, and water backpacks each with a 20-litre capacity. 

Fire-resistant protection solutions
TenCate Protective Fabrics supplies fire-resistant (FR) protection solutions for the US Forest Service (comparable to Staatsbosbeheer) and is the biggest supplier of FR fabrics for firefighting suits. With thermal protection in balance with moisture management and evaporative cooling effects, the fabrics are ideal for the wildland firefighting environment. TenCate has leveraged technologies developed for military applications in Iraq and Afghanistan for the fire service. For example, TenCate Defender® M is now also applied for the protection of wildland firefighters, while TenCate Tecasafe® Plus is used for the bushfire service in Australia and is also very popular in the US. TenCate Advance™ and TenCate Millenia™ XTL are further examples of fabrics for turnout gear that have found their way into forest firefighting.

Blue fabric (Tecawork Blue 65287)